Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Out with the Old.... 

by NA
And now the big news (or part of it)....

We've moved!

Please update your links accordingly. The new site URL is http://www.bycommonconsent.com. You can also get there by clicking the banner at the top of the page.

Do not bookmark this page. This site will no longer be updated, but it will remain open for browsing through our archives or for leaving snarky comments that no one will ever read.


Monday, November 22, 2004

MASSIVE changes 

by NA
The recent bait-and-switch at some other blog has caused us to consider the thirst of the average Bloggernacler for something new, something unique, something mildly blasphemous. We feel your pain, O ye unwashed masses. And so, on Wednesday, we will unveil some changes ourselves, BCC-style. Not the piddling, ho-hum changes you see elsewhere -- oh no! Ours will rattle your teeth like a ride on the Cyclone, shift your paradigm without a clutch and cause you to question the very meaning of life. Prepare yourselves.

And those of you who know what's going on, SHUT UP or I will e-break your kneecaps. The rest of you, feel free to speculate -- the best rumor-mongerer will win a shiny new Bronze Hornsman.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Oh Glorious Bronzed Hornsman--How long we have awaited thy arrival! 

by Karen
Yes, ladies and gentlemen...the folks at WalMart are recognizing the buying power of Mormons, and are filling that with a glorious bronzed hornsman...complete with a tennis visor.


So how do you all feel about marketing efforts towards church members? Off shoot of church's marketing plan as suggested by Deseret News? Tacky? Priestcraft? Necessary and welcome? Will you be buying a bronzed hornsman for your relatives this Christmas?


Thursday, November 18, 2004

What was that, anyway? 

by Kristine
This is going to take a minute to explain, and non-musicians may have a little trouble imagining what I'm trying to describe, but hang in there with me for a minute...

I sing in a little choir--a pretty decent little chamber choir, about 10 people to a part, not quite enough tenors (of course), but not a bad group. The director, Gary, is new this year, and very, very good.

This last Tuesday night, Gary was late to rehearsal. He'd had to go out of town for the weekend--some crisis with one of his parents to attend to--and his plane was late getting back. So he was frazzled, and we were poorly warmed up, and the rehearsal was a bit haphazard and sluggish. Until the last half-hour, when Gary, inspired by the music (Gerald Finzi's Magnificat, if anyone's wondering) and some degree of panic about our impending concert, cranked things up a notch. He managed to find some little extra bit of energy, and implored us to give a little more, to go ahead and make mistakes, to just *sing.* And he managed to make himself a little vulnerable--a goofy look here, an awkward big conducting motion there, trying to make a point. All of a sudden, everybody was really, really singing. There was music! It's hard to describe exactly, but if you've ever been in a musical group, or a theater production, or (probably, I wouldn't know) a sports team that just got it all together all at the same time, you know that magic.

The point is this: for me, the feeling in that rehearsal on Tuesday, when all 37 of us in that room were reaching, straining, for something ineffable and lovely, was indistinguishable from the few times I've been really sure I was feeling the Spirit in a church meeting. It makes sense to me that God would bless a bunch of his (their) children who are working together for something good and true and beautiful with his Spirit--why ever not? And yet, it feels a little strange to say "I felt the Spirit very strongly at choir rehearsal last night."

So, two questions for you:

1) Was it the Spirit filling the choir room?
2) Why does it feel funny to say that?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Thankful to be an Authentic Mormon 

by Karen
I'm planning Thanksgiving this week which got me thinking about previous Thanksgivings. They fall into pretty much two categories. Category One: Long plane rides home for a too short weekend with my family, consisting of doing lots of dishes while hoping that no one in my extended family is fighting. One memorable Thanksgiving red eye plane ride in law school found me sitting next to a very smelly little man who tended to cuddle after he fell asleep. Category Two: being a stray taken in by charitable people whose sense of duty probably outstripped their affection for me. Another memorable Thanksgiving found me in an apartment in Boston with a hostess with strep throat, who felt well enough only to bake a turkey. There was another Mormon girl there with me, who was so overwhelmed to be surrounded by Harvard Law Students that she had a "drunk Mormon episode" fueled by adrenaline rather than wine. She karaoked the entire Rent soundtrack at the top of her lungs while the authentically drunk law students sat around staring at her with mouths gaping open. On the way home some guy with a southie accent called me and my friend lesbians. A day forever emblazened on my memory.

This year will be different. This year, I'm cooking dinner with my urban Singleton family. (huzzah for Bridget Jones!) As I found out last year, Singleton dinners are wonderful. No family fights, no green bean casserole, and no football. And once I figured out I could cook a turkey without burning down the house, my enjoyment only increased. This year, riding on last years' success, we're doing it again. And possibly taking in some strays--only we will not play the Rent soundtrack.

So, here's the thing I've realized while planning Thanksgiving for my urban Singleton family. They really are family. We take care of each other. Together we've gone through major surgery, job loss, illness, grief over (traditional) family tragedies, hookups, and breakups. Armed by our cell phones, we all know that help is one chain of kindly gossip away. Our families know it too. My friend's sister called one of us the day of that friend's emergency surgery. A quick phone conference to decide who could take work off, and we had someone at the hospital in 30 minutes. My roommates' moms call, and talk to me about my job woes before they talk to their own daughters. My parents praise my friends more than they praise me. (Or at least my insecure self thinks they do.) We have some important things in common. We're all committed to living gospel-oriented lives, and we check up on each other. There is safety in confessing both doubts and triumphs to an unconditionally caring ear.

I think I've always subconsciously bought into the idea that my gratitude was for the opportunity to simulate an authentic Mormon life in an unconventional environment while I waited for my chance to have a family of my own. But as I've been planning Thanksgiving for my favorite Singletons, I realized we're all living authentic Mormon lives. We are taking the admonitions of prophets and scriptures and structuring our lives to fit them. We are committed "gospel livers" and not "gospel waiters." We live in a world so centered around family that we forget that the perfect family doesn't exist. All committed members living gospel lives inside or outside a traditional family are authentic Mormons, because we are all taking gospel principles and trying to apply it to whatever craziness life is throwing at us. And let's face it. Life tends to throw the crazy right about this time of year. May all your holidays be filled with minimal craziness assuaged by your authentic Mormon convictions. And may you avoid both smelly traveling companions and the Rent soundtrack.


Monday, November 15, 2004

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Fireside 

by Dave
On Saturday night, a car pulled up behind me just after I found a convenient parking spot on a narrow Pasadena street. A tall, confident-looking fellow emerged from the car, stuck out his hand, and said, "Hi, I'm Aaron Brown." Not one to miss a line, I replied, "Do you mean the Aaron Brown?" Suitably flattered, he confessed, and I introduced myself as his co-blogging partner in crime. And thus we convened an impromptu meeting of the California wing of Bcc, Inc. We're no vast left-wing conspiracy, but we get around.

The event was actually the monthly meeting of the Miller-Eccles group, whose mission (for those who choose to accept it) is "to encourage LDS gospel scholarship, enlightenment and understanding." The invited speaker this month was Ron Walker, a BYU history prof who is one of three authors of what promises to be the definitive book on the unfortunate occurrence at Mountain Meadows (forthcoming from Oxford Univ. Press in 2005). Prof. Walker's remarks made it clear there was simply an awful lot going on in Utah in 1857, and most of it is relevant to understanding how something like Mountain Meadows could have happened. Having visited the actual site earlier this year, I found the presentation to be especially interesting.

Incidentally, the host told us he was pleased to see some "younger" attendees (which he generously defined as "under 35") at the meeting, which seemed like the kind of discussion the average Bcc'er would find interesting. There is a $10 per person suggested donation to defray travel expenses of the presenters, but the discussion seemed well worth the investment. Check the MESG website for details on future meetings and speakers.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Interview: Michael Allred -- UPDATED 

by NA
It's not often that we at BCC have brushes with greatness, but over the past week I've had some emails with an artist involved in the most original and interesting news the LDS arts community has seen in years. Michael Allred is one of the biggest names in modern comics and graphic novels, with titles under his belt like X-Statix and Red Rocket 7, and his most famous work, Madman, is being made into a film by the fantastic Robert Rodriguez. His style has been compared to such greats as Jack Kirby and others, and his wife, Laura, has been his amazing colorist for years. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard of Mike's latest project, The Golden Plates, a series of Book of Mormon narratives that takes LDS doctrine in a bold new direction. I asked him a few obsequious questions, and he's generously responded. And maybe, just maybe, he'll answer a question or two of yours if he's so inclined.

Question/Fawning Admiration #1: Tell us about your visual inspirations.

Well, Arnold Friberg (who originally did 12 paintings of the Book Of Mormon, most which appear in several editions) is the first artist I remember seeing. So, his depictions of BOM people are the definitive ones in my mind, and so I'm going from his interpretations.

Question/Fawning Admiration #2: How did you go about picking and choosing which narrative aspects to follow?

It's been surprisingly easy. I simply read the scriptures and break the events into separate moments that can be illustrated.

Question/Fawning Admiration #3: What were the challenges of putting doctrine into the graphic novel format?

I do approach it as sacred. And while there is certainly a large bias of the comic book/ sequential art /graphic novel format, I'm
approaching it in the most thoroughly definitive way I'm capable of. In other words, using Friberg as an example again, what if he'd done THOUSANDS of illustrations instead of just the original 12? Well, I'm attempting to draw every moment with the doctrine placed in sequential order where ever possible.

Question/Fawning Admiration #4: Do you think the Book of Mormon is a history to be taken literally?

I absolutely DO regard the Book Of Mormon as a literal historical record, inspired by God, and the key to the truth of ALL things. It supports the truthfulness of ALL scripture.

Question/Fawning Admiration #5: Do you view this graphic novel as a missionary tool?

It is my testimony. Drawing is what I do best and having committed to this I will never again be at a loss to share my testimony and what I know to be true. Already many people who've never even heard of The Book Of Mormon have now been exposed to the first 14 chapters of the book. My hope is a seed will be planted, they'll find the beauty of the record, seek out the actual scriptures and find their way to the gospel. And for someone like myself, a life-long member who originally struggled with the scriptures, this might help provide a visual doorway to understanding the events, context, and flow of the history, and embrace the scriptures. AND for those who already have a love and testimony of the book might simply enjoy seeing it fully illustrated.

Question/Fawning Admiration #5: I must say, incidentally, that I admire the artistic guts it takes to do a project like Golden Plates; you're really going in some new territory here, and I think it's fantastic.

Thank you very much!
At this point, I just hope enough people get behind it so that I can finish it. We're off to a great start. The word of mouth on the project, and the positive response is well beyond what I had hoped for. It's thrilling.

Thanks again Mike! We want to officially order all BCC readers to go out and order copies immediately, and spread the word about a great book by an amazing author. His official website is at www.aaapop.com, and you can order his books through www.onipress.com.

UPDATE: Some reviews of The Golden Plates are starting to come in, and it's interesting to see.

Friday, November 12, 2004

A New Day? 

by Mathew
Renewed hope for a lasting peace in the Middle East comes in the wake of Arafat's death. After so much violence and misery, it seemed to me that hate had become a permanent part of the desert landscape. Now that the man the world recognized to represent the Palestinian people is gone, a new beginning feels possible. I do not mean to say that Arafat was all that stood between the current state of affairs and a lasting peace. There is blame enough to spread around in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pointing fingers may strengthen ideological positions, but does little to solve the harder problem of preparing populations to tolerate one another. With new blood in the Palestinian leadership, however, personal animus can be put aside and the world may find someone who, like Thatcher and Reagan found in Gorbachev, they can deal with. I don't know much about Mahmoud Abbas, but I do know that he is considered more moderate than Arafat and is an experienced negotiator. Maybe the time for peace has come. Hope, naively or not, springs eternal.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Our Most Important Poll, Ever --- UPDATED 

by NA
The fate of the bloggernacle is WAS in YOUR hands!

Poll's over, folks, and here are the results:

www.bycommonconsent.com 45.6% with 62 votes

www.rameumptom.com 30.9% with 42 votes

www.korihor.com 11% with 15 votes (due to T&S tampering)

www.zelph.org 10.3% with 14 votes

www.zeezrom.com 2.2% with 3 votes

total votes: 136

What will we do now? We shall gather in secret chambers to decide.


Monday, November 08, 2004

On Reading Tough Books 

by NA
Over the last year or so, I decided to read some of the great 'masterworks' of literature in their entirety, instead of just the snippets from the Norton anthologies. Sumer also joined along, reading books alongside. As a result, we've now read Moby-Dick, the complete Sherlock Holmes, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, A Passage to India, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, The Three Musketeers, Portrait of a Lady, Leaves of Grass, Treasure Island, Don Quixote, The Corrections, and a couple of others.

I initially took this on as a kind of personal Mount Everest, to read them because they're there and they're big, honking books that nobody really ever reads, and yet are classed amongst the most wonderful books ever written. Let's face it, there's a great deal of unrighteous pride involved here, to be able to flaunt your current reading -- telling people you're reading Don Quixote is a heckova lot more satisfying than responding with Men are From Mars or The Da Vinci Code. But I've gathered a couple of impressions from reading these big, tough books, and thought I'd get your ideas as well:

First, they're not so tough. The big books take some patience, but they're not so challenging or unengaging so as make them unreadable. War and Peace, for example, is challenging for the most part because of its variety of locales and characters; keep track of those, and the book isn't half as daunting. Getting your mind around some of the ideas, such as in The Brothers Karamazov, is a different matter; I'm still trying to work them out in my mind. But then again, so is everyone else!

Second, they're pretty good. Anna Karenina is now Sumer's favorite book (though its recent Oprah nod shook its reign). Don Quixote is now mine. They are considered the greatest books ever for good reason, but their size and reputations put them out of reach for most of us. I never would have appreciated them without reading them whole -- the fact of having read the entire book makes each aspect of the book seem more satisfying. Now the commandment in D&C 88:118 to seek wisdom in the best books makes a little more sense.

Do you get this same pleasure of working your way through a tough book?
What books are you reading now?

Potluck 7: The Blogging of the President, 2004 

by Dave
The Bloggernacle did its part--just about every weblog posted at least once on the election. I link to some of the more interesting pre- and post-election posts below. Television made its first big impact on presidential politics in 1960 with the Nixon-Kennedy debate. Blogging made its first big impact in 2004 by shooting down Dan Rather's memo story. What role will blogging (or the next Web innovation) play in 2008? Ask me in four years!

POST-ELECTION: Clark, rarely a political blogger, posts a nifty color map showing vote by county, shaded from blue to red by percentage vote--Utah is as red as it gets. John Fowles notes negative European press on Bush's re-election, which he summarizes as "predictably negative, even arrogantly condescending." Chris at LYMA promotes "Jon Stewart in 2008" and thinks the incumbent's supporters need to come up with a better chant than "Four More Years." And Mormanity likens this election's left-wing diatribes to anti-Mormon rhetoric, which he illustrates with a lengthy excerpt that starts, "Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states . . . ."

PRE-ELECTION: Greg at T&S points out that from 1932 to 1948, Utah voted solidly Democratic. And God didn't send down fire and brimstone! Although a rabid Republican might argue He did nuke St. George. Justin does a flashback to the election of 1912--Utah went for William Taft, but Woodrow Wilson Kerry won and kept the United States out of The Great War for the first three years. Larry the guest blogger at Our Thoughts talks about the lack of an opposition party in the province of Alberta, arguing that "[i]f we are to survive as a vibrant society in this province we need to allow for dissent and counter ideas." Look at Clark's map--not much dissent in the heartland of America either. Finally, Gordon's post on LDS Senator Harry Reid, possibly destined to be the Senate Minority Leader, features 74 comments giving many interesting details on this suddenly visible LDS politician.

NEXT WEEK: The theme for Potluck 8 will be LDS Sunday School, highlighting the Bloggernackers who have done regular lesson posts or commentary and running a few Google ranking contests. Anyone who does a "Three Things I Love/Hate About Sunday School" post is also at risk to be covered next week.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Madame Lydia Mary Olive Mamreov von Finkelstein Mountford and Interpreting the Past 

by John H
Thanks to the wonders of genealogy (and the marvelous Family History Library in Salt Lake), more than a few Latter-day Saints scratched their heads when they researched ancestors and learned they had been married in a polygamous union after 1890 when the Manifesto was issued. Post-manifesto polygamy has since become a fascinating topic for researchers, and was well-explored by Ken Cannon, D. Michael Quinn, and B. Carmon Hardy.

Hardy and Quinn argue that one post-1890 marriage took place on ship off the coast of San Francisco. The couple? Wilford Woodruff and Madame Lydia Mountford, a colorful, if largely forgotten character from Mormonism’s past. Madame Mountford waltzed into Salt Lake City in early 1897 as part of her speaking tour on the Holy Land. She was Russian, had lived in Jerusalem, and her background lent credence to her showmanship; her lectures on the New Testament and Christ’s life included actors and larger-than-life costumes. She met with members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Some of the Brethren were skeptical - Anthon Lund noted that she had no foreign accent (Lund would know, speaking five languages himself). But Woodruff was enchanted by the woman. He attended most (if not all) of her lectures in the Tabernacle, and after she left Salt Lake, he continued to correspond with her.

It turns out that after their initial meeting 5 February 1897, in the next eighteen months before Woodruff's death, no other person was mentioned as many times in his diary as Madame Mountford. In fact, only his health received more attention in his daily journal. Woodruff started referring to her only as “M” and in one entry mentioned that he benefited from her “massage treatment.” In September 1897 Wilford Woodruff departed for a vacation to the west coast. He refused to let his wife and daughter join him (although they wanted to) and he and personal secretary L. John Nutall traveled under assumed names. They arrived in Portland, Oregon first. Then they traveled to San Francisco, stayed only two days, and took a ship back to Oregon. Who happened to be staying in San Francisco at the time of their journey? Madame Mountford.

Woodruff and Nutall returned back to Salt Lake a few days later. Hardy and Quinn theorize that Woodruff married Mountford (with Nutall officiating) on the ship - a common practice of post-manifesto marriages so as to create plausible deniability. After all, they weren’t married in the U.S. but on the ocean.

It’s a fascinating tale to be sure, and one that I’ve been doing a lot of reading on. Mountford was friends with Susa Young Gates, so I’m combing her papers for any kind of a hint in the correspondence between the two that suggests Woodruff and Mountford married. When one reads Quinn or Hardy, it’s next-to-impossible to not believe the marriage took place. But this raises the grand dilemma for all historians and our quest to understand the past.

We tend to view individuals as if their lives were a series of blips on the linear radar screen. In this case, a reference to Mountford pops up, then another, then more. The dots are easy to connect, giving us the evidence that we’re looking for. But then, we forget that the people in our story aren’t blips or just colorful characters. They’re humans, living day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute.

Perhaps if Wilford Woodruff were here (and being totally candid, of course) I could ask him, and he might smile and say he did marry Mountford, and that she fascinated him. He might congratulate Quinn and Hardy on their detective work, putting two and two together. But what if he was stunned at the insinuation. What if, when questioned, he just said he doesn’t know why Mountford appeared in his diary so much. It certainly wasn’t intentional, he might insist. After, he probably wasn't counting the number of times he referred to something, the way later historians would. And what if he said he isn’t sure why he decided to only stay two days in San Francisco, or why he doesn’t record anything about Mountford when he’s there (Quinn calls this, accurately, I suspect, a “deafening silence.”) Haven’t we all done things that, in retrospect, might not make sense to someone who views our behavior from the outside? We might have a perfectly logical explanation, or we might not even be sure ourselves. It’s human nature.

Thomas Alexander offers a nice alternate view to the Mountford-Woodruff connection. Were the two married? I don’t know. (Actually, even if they were, I’m not sure why it’s as important as others make it out to be; the two clearly never intended to share a life together or even reside in the same state, let alone act as husband and wife.) It can’t help but make me wonder, what if our visions of the past are off-base. Actually, it wouldn’t be all that bad. I’d love to sit down with Joseph Smith someday, see him smile, and tell me, “Here’s what really happened.”


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Some Laws to Strengthen Our Marriages--The Case for Consistency 

by Mathew
One of our friends at T&S mentions that the the "official Church advocates using political means to encourage the traditional family" and that lately that has meant supporting the effort to codify the time-honored definition of marriage. Like other good LDS, I'm trying to think of other things we could codify to preserve the sanctity of marriage.

1. Divorce--what is it good for? This is a problem in our church. Our leaders speak often about the soaring divorce rates and the negative impact on society. If you aren't committed enough to marriage to stay in it, you probably shouldn't be in it in the first place. With around 50% of all marriage in the U.S. ending in divorce, this presents a bigger threat to the institution of marriage than SSM. A ban on divorce with a few well-crafted exceptions for physical abuse would discourage the Britney Spears of the world from denigrating our time-honored institution. Of course it will be difficult to get popular support for this measure because so many of our family members, friends and neighbors are involved in this practice that the Bible condemns, but friends, we must be firm and stand for truth. We must not give the impression that we are going after homosexuals only because they are easy targets--we are people of principle and we must be equally firm against those who would lessen the significance of our marriages on every front.

2. Sex--for married people only. I don't think sex outside of marriage is as big a problem in the church, but society seems to have accepted it. We've been told that no other sin tops this one except murder. In the old days it wasn't socially acceptable to have sex outside of wedlock. There were strong societal taboos and there were even time-honored laws against it. The union of a man and a wife was one of the most beautiful parts of marriage. It still is. But it's being cheapened by people who are having unions without being married. Folks, don't be fooled, this is part of the radical agenda of people-eschewing-respect-for-virtue (PERV). If sex can be had without marriage, some people will still get married because it is important to them to make a public commitment to the person they love, but lots of people will be getting all that sexual healing without making the co-pay we call marriage. To many people that will make marriage seem less desirable and the institution will be lessened. We should therefore make a law against people have sex unless they are married. Again, this is going to be unpopular, but we must stand on principal--otherwise it will look like our principals are selectively applied to gays.

Any other ideas how we can use the law to strengthen marriage?


Politics and “Moral Values” 

by John H
The election is over, my man didn’t win. I liked John Kerry and I was ready to give him a shot for four years to see what he’d offer us. But, unlike some liberals, I’m not announcing my plans to move to Canada or predicting the end of the universe as we know it. George Bush strikes me as a likeable, nice fellow, even if I strenuously disagree with many of his policies.

But I am depressed after the election. It’s not over the leader we chose, but over why, apparently, he was chosen. In exit polls, more people said they were concerned about “moral values” than were concerned about the economy or terrorism. Lest anyone think I am opposed to moral values, let me reassure you. I like values just fine and I think they compose the backbone of a strong society.

What I despair over is conservative control over what is defined as values. One of the big surprises of the election was the Republican ability to match the Democrats in new registered voters. People were anxious to support George W. Bush for the first time. The question is, why? I’m sure there are a lot of reasons, but if the exit polls are right, moral values is a big one. I doubt people who voted for Bush were thinking, “I’m thrilled with how Iraq is going, or I love where unemployment is at.” They connected with him on the “value” issue.

So what does that mean? It means stem cell research, abortion, same sex marriage, and of course, religion. Perhaps this is why Utah Mormons overwhelmingly supported Bush again this year. What doesn’t it mean? Apparently morality has little to do with tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, 2,200 dead American soldiers, and tax cuts for the wealthy. (Within a few months, the number of dead soldiers will exceed the number of people killed on 9/11.) I’m not sure how or when it happened (and I don’t really care, frankly) but I’m utterly at a loss as to why conservatives get to decide what values are in America. Values don’t encompass helping the poor among conservatives, or fighting AIDS in Africa in a meaningful way. Yes, I know we gave some money, but to steal Bill Maher’s analogy, we’re like the millionaire who flips a quarter, or when we’re feeling really generous, a dollar, to the homeless guy and then thinks we made a real difference. We have the ability in this country to alleviate much of the suffering around the world, but we don’t. We’d rather drive tanks to work, shop with forklifts at Costco, watch TV on screens the size of movie theatres, and do whatever we want, whenever we want, the cost be damned. Apparently that’s what freedom means these days. We bitch and moan at paying $2 a gallon in gas to drive to the restaurant, but $5 for the valet is ok, and hey, who doesn’t pay $13 for a pear and gorgonzola salad?

What I’m suggesting is that our values are seriously screwed up in this country. Our outrage is reserved for Janet Jackson’s boob during the Super Bowl (where innocent children could’ve been watching!!!), for Bill Clinton’s marital infidelity, and for John Kerry’s “questionable” war record. We care about things that don’t matter and ignore the things that do. I hope we can stand up and let people know that we’re moral people, and that we stand for values, but that those values count. Sure, abortion’s an important moral issue, but if you’ve got such a myopic view that it’s what determines your vote, you’ve got no business calling yourself a person with values. What would Jesus do has to mean more than walking out of a movie where someone has the nerve to take their clothes off. We’ve got to stop letting conservatives control the discourse and tell us what counts and what doesn’t on the value-o-meter. Dying children in Africa matters. Genocide in Sudan matters. Iraqi civilians aren’t just collateral damage. What can we do to let our fellow Latter-day Saints know how we feel? What can we do to help combat this conservative control?


Wednesday, November 03, 2004


by Kristine
It's the end of autumn in New England. It's hard to describe how gorgeous it is. I walk around most days with a tight aching in my throat, as though I might cry any minute--the loveliness so intense it's painful. As I type this, I am looking out the window over our backyard, covered in gold and russet leaves, out over a half-mile of rooftops and red and orange treetops to the ocean, the leaves more brilliant against the slate gray of the water than the blue sky.

I am a pagan at heart; the veneer of my Mormonism shows its bare spots when I'm overwhelmed by this-worldly beauty. I believe that I will never understand birth, death, resurrection, the Plan of Salvation carefully mapped out on the Sunday School chalkboard. All I know in my bones is what I've lived over and over again--the first pale green thrust of spring, the slow ripening and heaviness of summer, and the dying glory of the autumn leaves.

This autumn, death has seemed closer than usual. The mother of one of the fifth-graders at our school died slowly and painfully of cancer, the husband of a friend disappeared and was presumed drowned when the boat he had been sailing washed up on the shore of a Wisconsin lake. And a boy from our school, just 14, brave in the stupid way of adolescent boys, dared a train with his bicycle and lost. His mother had been riding a little ways behind him, and came around a corner to find her golden boy lying in the October leaves.

I see her now, every day when she brings her daughter to school, and it is hard not to turn away, to run. She is the spectre that haunts all parents' nightmares, the embodiment of that fear we never can quite banish. My faith seems too flimsy a defense. I do not want assurance that my children's spirits will live forever; I only want their bodies to outlive mine. My universe weighs just over 100 pounds, as tall and wide as three adored bundles of skin and bones, viscera and hair, blood and muscles.

I will the leaves to stay on the trees, to hang on against wind and rain, not to leave us with the cold beauty of the trees' forms and the stark peace of the snow-covered garden. And yet the useless beauty of the leaves' dying makes room for hope--surely this autumn glory *means* something. Surely a world so beautiful is evidence of sense and purpose, such loveliness the assurance of a great Love over and around us all.

President Bush Wins!!! 

by Aaron B
That's my prediction. Just because nobody else in the media will definitively call this election, doesn't mean I can't. You heard it here first folks.

(Does this qualify me as a prophet?)

Liberals, vent! Conservatives, rejoice! Libertarians, shrug your shoulders?

Aaron B


Monday, November 01, 2004

Thank You, 31 Years Later 

by Karen
This past month I celebrated my thirty-first birthday, and in addition to very much enjoying my friend-sponsored surprise party (where my lovely friends contributed to my much needed mental tidy by burning things that upset me in a big big bonfire), I enjoyed some free introspection time. This year, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about my birth mother. Usually, a few days after my birthday, I remember that she is out there somewhere, and surmise that she was probably trying to deal with a very difficult day. This year, however, I thought about her quite a bit on my birthday and thought that although I have no strong desire to actually try to find her (as I'm a fiercely devoted member of the quirky but loving Hall family) I did want to say thank you. So here is my thank you note:

Dear Birth Mother,

I don't remember meeting you, although I'm sure that I made quite an impression on you 31 years ago. I know it must have been hard to make the decision to put me up for adoption. But I wanted you to know that I consider it to be the most admirable selfless act that I can imagine. My parents are amazing, supportive, loving people, and they raised me in a stable, spiritual home, along with my older brother. They aren't rich, but they had the financial stability to support me and encourage my education. They also are happy, well-adjusted people, who raised me to be practical and strong--but still call me princess. I am so grateful that I was raised in that home, and I know that you made it possible. I imagine that you were pretty young when I was born, and I also imagine you realized you couldn't give me everything you wanted to yourself, so you shared me with people who could. I like to think that you passed on to me the ability to make mature selfless decisions, because that is something that I admire about you, and am striving to develop myself.

I also want to thank you for not having an abortion. I always thought it was ironic that I was born exactly nine months after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. I know that you legally had the choice to terminate your pregnancy, but you chose not to. I hope you don't regret that decision. I feel so fortunate to be alive. I love my life. I love what I've done with it, and I cherish the fact that I've been so blessed.

Please don't worry about me. I know that there are still people who are wary of adoption. I remember reading billboards for mental hospitals in Utah that specialized in "drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, and adopted children." I always thought that was pretty ridiculous, and being the spunky girl I am, make fun of those signs and attitudes regularly. Please don't spend time anguishing over whether or not you did the right thing. I know you were inspired to allow my parents to adopt me, and I'm so grateful that you followed that inspiration. I really hope that you have found peace with your decision, and I want you to know that I wish you all the best in life. You certainly deserve to experience the same kind of happiness you've given me.

With much respect,



Who I Am 

by NA
Many have written to me, to complain of how they weren't able to be at the Bloggernacle party last week. I'm sorry you couldn't make it, you non-NYC inferior nerds. For those of you who couldn't make it, I've made a little video of myself for the curious public. It's a bit long, but will fill in a lot of blanks for you all. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Some Things I Learned at the Blorgy 

by Kristine
1. The New York City Subway map makes things look close and easy enough to get to. Do not believe it.

2. Mat Parke is not, in fact, the general counsel for a grocery store chain. (yes, I'm stupider than I look!)

3. Really good cheese tastes a *lot* better than pretty good cheese (thanks, Kaimi!)

4. Steve Evans is funny. And his dad played the villain in an old church movie. Somehow that makes him seem even funnier.

5. I can get along just fine (swimmingly, actually) with at least one of the Bell brothers. (which makes me suspect that pre-millenial reconciliation, or at least detente, with the Fowles might even be possible :))

6. It is unwise for me to stay up past 1 a.m., as fatigue puts me in a confessional mood. It's a good thing we weren't drinking--heaven knows what scandalous tales I might have told :)

7. Did I mention that Steve Evans is funny? I actually fell on the floor laughing at one point (of course, almost everything is pretty funny by 2:15 in the morning)

8. JWL was the only person who was almost exactly as I'd imagined him, and just as wonderful.

9. Kaimi, whom I had always imagined as a righteous man, careful to bring up his children in truth, has been corrupting his innocents with that great evil of our time--Yankee fandom. Fortunately, his children will still have access to the spirit, which can whisper truth to them in spite of the false traditions of their father.

10. D., besides having very quickly become one of my favorite people on earth, is a FABULOUS host. His place is beautiful, the food was wonderful, and he was so warm and welcoming. He even flew back from Utah a day early to arrange everything perfectly. What a guy!


Friday, October 29, 2004

Bloggernacle Potluck VI 

by Dave
Am I the only one who finds the Bloggernacle more interesting than television? In case you've spent too much time watching Scrubs, Lost, The O.C., and the other fare so elegantly showcased yesterday by Steve, here are a few Bloggernacle highlights since the last Potluck.

Justin gives short teasers on two new books by Terryl Givens that are in the works for next year. Yes, they are both on Mormonism. The one subtitled The Cultural History of the Mormon People looks quite promising. I wonder if blogging will make it into the last chapter? Givens, Jr. blogs (he was a regular commenter at T&S at one point) so there is a chance the Bloggernacle will at least get a footnote.

Rusty talks about the tough sell that early-morning seminary is for some Mormon teenagers. Y'all can chime in with your opinion, but I've never seen any official recognition of the fact that wake-up times for EMS students have morphed from early morning (7ish) to very early morning (6ish) to very, very early morning (5ish) as high schools have beefed up their curricula and schedules. Declining interest by some teenagers is a sign of their sanity. Failure to adjust by CES is a sign of rigid thinking, the kind of "make the people fit the program" approach that makes the Mormon Church such a wonderful place. Try holding Sacrament Meeting at 6:00 a.m. and see who shows up! My sympathy, of course, to instructors like Rusty who are caught in the middle.

John C. at new blog United Brethren is trolling for advice on what to say to a straying LDS student who is trying to deal with his initial foray into Mormon Studies via Jon Krakauer. I would tell him to tell the kid to start blogging, but the question probably deserves more serious treatment. Go drop in and share your unique BCC insights.

The best I could come up with over at the other blog was Matt's post on the how regularly he sees Mormons with left-leaning political convictions leave the Church while one rarely sees right-leaning Mormons take the long walk. Try to suppress your knee-jerk liberal reaction and read the post, which recognizes that this is a delicate subject and treats it as a question that deserves serious discussion. We form singles wards and Polynesian branches . . . how about a Democratic branch or two? I'd even settle for a few politically neutral congregations.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Mormon Idiot's Guide to Television 

by NA
OK, you weak-minded fools, you love your T.V. You spend more time worshipping the boob tube than on your knees before your Maker. That's O.K. -- you are no different than the rest of America and the world. Better for you to be mesmerized by the phosphors than to be a total social outcast.

That being said, no amount of T.V.-watching will make you normal, unless you watch the right T.V. Being an fanboy of Antiques Roadshow and Charmed will get you neither into the Celestial Kingdom, nor the Great and Spacious Building. So, your friends at BCC have put together this friendly guide to the new Fall schedule, so that you may set your VCRs, program your TiVos and rearrange your Family Home Evenings as appropriate. This is a guide to prime time viewing on the major networks only -- mormons are too cheap for HBO (though we discuss the best of HBO below).

We've tried to present three options for each time slot.The first option in a timeslot is what you ought to watch, as a cool member of society; the second is what you could watch, if offended by cool content; the third is what you must never watch, for fear of contracting social leprosy. Links are provided to each show's homepage. Feel free to disagree with our picks to your hearts' content, you knobs.

8:00 p.m. SpongeBob SquarePants/F.H.E./7th Heaven. Not much to merit watching this hour of television, sadly. 7th Heaven is a dark, evil addiction which grips my family. You can justify watching it, however, by virtue of the rumor that Aaron Spelling originally planned to make it about mormons. Just have F.H.E., and get yourself right with the Lord before 9:00.
9:00 p.m. Everwood/CBS comedies/Girlfriends. Everwood is class A WB stuff. Truly enjoyable writing, fine cast, and it's filmed in Utah! The show is heartfelt, and deals with some interesting issues, at least occasionally. The other two options are horrible. Of course, come Jan. 10th, the truly awesome 24 begins in this timeslot, so 24 vs. Everwood should cause you to rush out and buy TiVo right now.
10:00 p.m. The Wire/local news/CSI Miami. Will David Caruso stop trying to seem like a Bad Dude? Come on, scrawny man! You're not fooling anyone, and your show is even worse than the original CSI, if that's possible. What a waste of Miami! At least Miami Vice involved Michael Mann and a Ferrari.
11:00 p.m., MONDAY-FRIDAY: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, on Comedy Central. Really, this is the only 'must-see T.V.' that still exists. You could also stay up after and watch South Park, you perverts.

8:00 p.m. Gilmore Girls/scripture study/NOVA. GG is a great show: snappy writing, a weird, funny world, and involving characters. It has the fastest pace of dialogue of any show on television, and I've grown to really enjoy it. Don't like the WB? Get over it. Watch PBS, you nerd.
9:00 p.m. Veronica Mars/Scrubs/Frontline. VM is the new, better written BtVS. What an amazing, soon-to-be-cancelled show, with a strong, smart woman and a thoughful writing style. It's about the nosy daughter of a P.I., but it's really much more interesting than its premise. Plus a really cool intro song -- this is the best show ever on UPN, including when they stole Buffy. Scrubs will do in a pinch for dumb comedy. Not in the mood for great TV or mildly interesting comedy? Watch PBS again, you nerd.
10:00 p.m. local news/whichever Law & Order show is on, and ready yourself for Wednesday.

8:00 p.m. Lost/60 Minutes/Smallville. Lost is another JJ Abrams masterpiece, kind of an Alias meets Cast Away meets Land of the Lost. The premise? Crawl out from under your rock -- people are lost on an island somewhere weird. Interesting, suspenseful, well-executed T.V., that ranks up there with Veronica Mars for best new show. 60 Minutes is always fun to watch, but try to avoid Smallville, which takes a great superhero franchise and reduces it to creature-of-the-week T.V. Awful, made more so by its potential.
9:00 p.m. Another FHE/Spike TV/West Wing. Not much on at 9:00 p.m. Wednesdays, and don't give me West Wing, 'cause this season sucks rocks compared to years past. It'll be gone next year, I guarantee. I put in Spike TV because tonight they're showing Dog Day Afternoon, which puts them up a couple of notches in my book.
10:00 p.m. See Tuesday.

8:00 p.m. The O.C./Joey/Journal writing. Mock if you must, but The O.C. is great, pulpy T.V. at its best. It has soap opera-y storylines, to be sure, but it's snappy & fun, great to look at, and gets you hooked pretty quickly. It has some good James Dean moments, believe it or not. And that Adam Brody is dreamy! Joey is there for you if you really miss Friends, I suppose, but it's fairly forgettable.
9:00 p.m. CSI/The Apprentice/Organizing food storage. This is a good hour to just keep the T.V. off. CSI is awful stuff, the worst ham-fisted writing in the world. But it's Bruckheimer-produced, so if you liked Bad Boys then this may keep you drooling. The Apprentice is included so that you can keep up with the water-cooler talk the next day, but Trump is a moron.
10:00 p.m. Late night temple session?

8:00 p.m. Complete Savages/Joan of Arcadia/Dateline NBC. Complete Savages is a sitcom produced by Mel Gibson, that has a real Chuck Jones-style comedy angle. It's fairly dumb, but has moments of hilarity, and is the best on-screen depiction of an all-male household I've ever seen. Joan of Arcadia is basically a smarter teen version of Touched by an Angel, but it still sucks, despite its emmy nods. Dateline NBC represents the worst of "news" journalism.
9:00 p.m. PPIs/Reba/JAG. This is the time of night you regret having a T.V. If you have an Xbox, Gamecube, or Atari, break it out. Otherwise you'll face the worst cheese of middle America. Sumer really likes Reba, because she hails from Texas and "it's not ridiculous." You be the judge. Reba is a single mom, working hard to keep her family together. *yawn* As for JAG, Catherine Bell ceased to be a sex symbol years ago, and Bellisario (the producer) hasn't made an interesting show since Airwolf's 2nd season.
10:00 p.m. Get a life! Get out of the house, potato! Go clubbing!

Saturday (are you really watching T.V. on a Saturday night? Loser!)
Not much of note comes on Saturday night. But I must divulge one of my many secret pleasures, Cops. Man alive, there's something deeply satisfying about seeing the darker side of humanity.

Sunday has a host of funny and intersting shows. Here are the highlights, but you may as well just program your T.V. to swap automatically between ABC and FOX. Otherwise, feel free to watch American Dreams, Cold Case or British House of Commons on C-SPAN to your heart's content -- just don't expect anyone to want to hang out with you, ever.

7:00 p.m. America's Funniest Home Videos. Sure, it's a bit of a guilty pleasure. But you never get tired of someone taking a golf ball to the crotch, people! To me, AFV is a microcosm of America itself; it shows our vices, our pleasures, our failures. Well, more accurately, yours (O Canada...)
8:00 p.m. The Simpsons. The best animated series on television, and arguably the best ever, depending upon how many Futurama fanboys you talk to. Those who think The Simpsons are in poor taste obviously haven't seen a lot of South Park (must be the same people who think T&S is a liberal blog *snicker*).
8:30 p.m. Arrested Development. AD is by a mile the best comedy on T.V., and certainly the best show Jason Bateman's ever been a part of. Produced by Ron Howard, and starring some of the best comedic talent available (including Mr. Show's David Cross), AD is the ultimate tongue-in-cheek family sitcom. If you haven't watched it, you owe it to yourself to upgrade from the shlock that normally passes for comedy, such as Everybody Loves Raymond.
9:00 p.m. Desperate Housewives or Alias (starting in January)/Law & Order - Criminal Intent/Masterpiece Theatre. Desperate Housewives is listed as a shout-out to Gigi Parke, who is addicted to the show (as a mirror of her own life, perhaps?). But it's highly regarded and has an interesting ongoing series of plots. My only objection is that it's a little too racy than it needs to be, and is sometimes a little obvious with its themes. The same could be said for the other show ABC slots at this time, Alias. But somehow, Jennifer Garner kicking butt as a super-spy seems more harmless. Last season's Alias was terrible compared to its spectacular first season, but rumor has it that JJ Abrams is back on track -- if Lost is any indication. I've included L&O - CI as an option here because Vincent D'Onofrio is really good at being a creepy detective, but there's not too much else that distinguishes it. Again, you want class? Watch PBS, nerd.
10:00 p.m. Go to bed!/News/Boston Legal. Can you really consider watching Boston Legal? Just because William Shatner and James Spader star doesn't make it worthwhile -- cast isn't everything (tell that BTW to the dorks behind Dr. Vegas!).

Soon to come: cable shows, HBO and others. Please feel free to snark away should you disagree. We will cruelly mock you. For those who deeply care about T.V. (and you all should), behold an invaluable resource: Television Without Pity. This is the internet's best recapping and review site, where the reviews are often better than the shows themselves (esp. for 7th Heaven).

Go forth and watch, my children!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

History of My Employment--Vol. 1 

by Mathew
In yesterday's post, Steve talks about jobs in bad environments for terrible pay that his mother forced him to take. Folks, it's as if we led parallel lives. Either that or we have the same mother. That isn't as implausible as it sounds--with so many kids running around its possible that we just didn't bump into each other.

As it turns out, even before reading Steve's post, my employment history had been on my mind. Last Saturday I called Mom up to review the record. I began by letting her know that I am paid decently at my law firm and asked if I should give some of the money back. She seemed surprised at the question and asnwered "no", a position I find inconsistent with her insistance that I not take the $3 an hour Sister Slagowski offered me for yard work when I was 12 because it was "too much".

My first real job was working for my father. I grew up on a farm and Dad, in an attempt to teach me about money, paid me a summer salary from which I was expected to buy my own school clothes. When I started I was 10 and we agreed to $120. I wasn't being paid to do my chores of course. Daily milking the cow, feeding the chickens, pigs, and cows, mowing the golf course we conservatively called a lawn or weeding the garden that produced enough to can hundreds of quarts a year was all gratis (or as my mother put it--"earning my keep". Chores were expected--I, along with my older brother, was paid to run the farm. We threw siphons, pulled head-gates and dug cross-dikes day and night when it was our water turn and eventually grew two crops of alfalfa and a few thousand bushels of wheat from the stubborn Idaho soil. At the end of the summer Dad called me into his study to reckon the books and cut me a check for $60. He was bishop at the time and scrupulously honest, but in money matters his memory was notoriously bad, so I ended up wearing Toughskin pants for another year instead of the more expensive Levi's I had fantacized about.

The next year, having no better offers, I again worked for my father. The controversy from the year before had been put to rest by his promising to pay me $120 this year. After we had cut and baled the hay and harvested the grain, I met again with Dad in his study where he sold me my first investment. He would cut me an $80 check and I would use the other $40 to buy a pair of piglets in the spring which I could raise and then sell on the open market when they were adults. Making money never seemed so easy and I readily agreed to his proposal. Sitting in my law office and thinking back on this, it occurs to me that I should have read the fine print--but who thinks about that when they are 11.

The next spring Dad drove me to a farm a few miles from ours and we purchased two piglets. I grained and watered them every day, carried the pig slop (scraps from our kitchen) out to their pen whenever it was full and after about a year we had two large pigs ready for auction. My father proposed simplifying the transaction, foregoing the auction and buying the pigs directly. He offered me the magic number, $120. This was below market price, but on the other hand, I hadn't paid anything for the grain and an $80 profit (tax free!) looked pretty good. So we slaughtered the pigs. Dad then explained that things hadn't gone well with the farm that year (my entire family engaged in group-delusion by insisting that one year things would go well with the farm), but that he would pay me when he had the money. I guess he never got the money because I never got paid.

I advertised the injustice of the situation often and loudly enough that the Pig Money has now entered family lore. Now when we get together for family occasions, I sometimes ask Dad when I'm going to get paid. Trying to be philosophical about it, I comfort myself by thinking that if at age 30 the worst thing you can say about your father is that he welched on the Pig Money, you can't complain.

It's harder to forget the injustices I suffered at the hands of my mom--more on that later.


Pedro for President! 

by NA
No, not that Pedro.

I live in a smallish building on the Upper West Side -- five families, 6 floors and a basement. Each of us lives on a separate floor, but we all share some common areas in the building, like any other condo. We have a small garden out front. We take turns taking the trash to the curb; we take turns shoveling the walk. We all pitch in to tend the garden and clean up common areas. 'Tis a harmony of the highest order, 4th Nephi-style.

Or so it should be. Some of us are more lazy than others, which means every once in a while, the snow doesn't get shovelled or the trash builds up. When there are only a few families, and we all take turns, a particular family's failure to contribute becomes extremely obvious. We all come from very different backgrounds, so some of us have never performed this type of manual labor before, while others had several crappy jobs through high school that their mother got for them that made them do all kinds of junk like this for the worst pay imaginable and you had to work with total coke fiends.

Anyhoo... enter Pedro. One of the families knows a super from down the street, named Pedro. For $150 a month, Pedro has offered to shovel our walks, take out the trash and periodically clean up our sidewalks. Pedro does a very fine job at his other building, and has enough spare time to work on ours, too. $150/month, $30 per family, seems a reasonable amount. But I have a weird aversion to hiring Pedro to do these tasks for me. I'm worried that it will fragment the culture of our building, making us rely on others to do work which is rightly our own, while causing each of us to participate a little less towards the common good. This all seems to cut against the grain of my pioneer blood and the spirit of the mormon work ethic. Isn't it good for me, in some way, to get out there and shovel my own walk? What are the effects of hiring people to do our work?

Pedro would be a good President. We have a contract with Pedro to perform services, and he fulfills these tasks gladly as promised. We have him work for the collective good, and in exchange we each work a little less. Pedro is the central government executive branch, performing our work in exchange for our money. We all participate a little less, and pay a little more, but the tasks get done more efficiently and we live worry-free. Pedro is Big Government. Vote for Pedro!

Monday, October 25, 2004


by Christina
The cover article in the New York Times magazine this weekend was about a family in New York in which the two parents are gay women who have raised to now young adulthood two daughters (each conceived through male sperm donors and borne by the mothers, one each). I was particularly interested in the article because I worked for one of the mothers, Sandy Russo, when I was at Legal Services one summer. The thrust of the article was as follows: there is political cachet on each side of the debate over gay marriage and gay couples raising children as to the sexual orientation of those children as youths/adults. The body of social science research performed on families like this is small, as the possible sample size is still very small. However, there have been studies, as one might expect given the cultural issues at stake, coming down on both sides of the debate over the welfare of children raised in gay unions. Some evidence exists that the children of these unions are as or better socially well-adjusted as children of other unions on all the typical indicators for these things. Let's take it as a given that gay unions turn out happy, productive members of society. What I am interested is the question, as articulated by the subjects of the article and exemplified by these two daughers: do openly gay parents who raise their children affect their children's sexual development in such a way that those children are more likely to question their sexual orientation, act on homosexual impulses and/or identify as homosexual? In the Russo-Young family, one daughter is gay; the other is straight.

After reading the article, my conclusion was that these kids are influenced in their sexual development by their parents' homosexuality. First of all, kids are influenced by everything their parents do; whether we adopt our parents' attitudes, activities, or politics is something every one of us struggles with in the process of defining self and growing to adulthood. It is only sensible to me that sexual orientation is just like any of these other things. I also believe that our sexuality has both innate and cultural aspects, and, controversial as this is, I think women's sexuality is probably more malleable than men's. Given these assumptions together, gay parents' sexual orientation will surely affect their children's orientation, most likely insofar as those children struggle more consciously with sexuality as a choice between homosexuality as the norm and heterosexuality as the alternative. This was certainly expressed by the children profiled in the article.

So, my question is, what does it matter? As members of this church, we are taught that our sexuality should only be expressed in heterosexual marriage. But this standard doesn't jibe with the reality of many people's experience, particularly for those who don't identify as heterosexual. I've heard more progressive members of the church say that given the assumption that our sexuality has both innate and acquired attributes, we should be accepting of homosexuality but not encourage it. Would that then mean that we love and support our homosexual friends but don't encourage them to raise children.? I don't think this is a tenable approach. At bottom it still marginalizes gays, lesbians and transgendered people because it still assumes that these modes of sexuality are wrong (and denies them basic human freedoms).
What is the church's stance? Is it correct?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Come out of the Closet! 

by Aaron B
I am intrigued by the phenomenon of the closeted blog-reader. You all know who you are. You read By Common Consent religiously (and maybe occasionally stoop to visit BCC-lite), you stay home with your computers on Saturday nights just in case something profound pops up on this site, but you never actually dare to make a comment yourself. Why is that? I mean, it’s not that difficult to chime in, folks. All you have to do is push the “comments” button, provide your name and email address (which can even be anonymous, don’t you know), and say hello! It’s not like your every utterance need be profound or thought-provoking (though that would be nice). I really do occasionally run into people who say they visit the Bloggernacle, but haven’t ever left a comment. And we all recall the occasional commenter who says: “I’ve been reading this blog for a long time, but I haven’t commented until today …”

What is going on here? Why are there so many passive readers who haven’t yet morphed into active participants? Some theories:

(1) The intellectual sophistication of those participating here is so impressive that most readers are intimidated into awestruck silence.

(This is quite flattering. I hope this is it. Alas, though some of Nate’s philosophical ramblings might qualify, I doubt that my latest screed would pass muster. (Although Steve E. tells me my recent observation on "Turner & Hooch" was quite brilliant, thank you very much)).

(2) People read BCC as a guilty pleasure, but most don’t dare participate in such an edgy forum for fear that the ecclesiastical repercussions might be severe. A corollary of this view -- BCC is really, really important, and those of us who participate here are unusually brave and stalwart souls, ready to defend truth and righteousness, no matter what the consequences!

(I really like this one. But it’s probably false.)

(3) We are collectively perceived as vicious enemies of orthodoxy, ready to pounce on any dissent that doesn’t conform with our enlightened "liberal" views. Hence, people are afraid we will make fun of them and make them cry.

(Not true, folks. We’re all about peace and love around here. Really. Besides, the only blogger I feel compelled to pick fights with is Lile).

(4) Our pretentiousness and self-importance is so mindboggling, that it’s all that most readers can do to just sit dumbfounded in front of their screens, fingers paralyzed.

(Impossible. This can’t be it.)

(5) Everyone who reads this blog does comment here! We’re flattering ourselves to think we even have any other readers! We don’t! Most of our blog traffic is simply a function of Steve E. not having enough to do at work and visiting the site like 40,000 times a day.

(I fear this may be it.)

In all seriousness, though, I wonder what it is that prods a reader into taking that first step towards full participation. How long does it take the average reader to make the leap? Why does it take as long as it does? Why don’t those of you who typically visit here in silence finally break the mold and say something? Tell us about yourselves! Now’s your chance.

Aaron B

P.S. Yes, this means you Peter Dittmer. :)


The Perils of Setting Baptismal Goals 

by Aaron B
I am a lousy journal writer. Always have been. Yes, I kept a journal as a young child at my parents’ insistence and it is fun to go back and visit those juvenile entries once in a blue moon. But ever since I was seven, I have only made diary entries on rare occasion. Even as a missionary, I couldn’t bring myself to write regularly. I always felt like there was no obvious method for selecting what I should include and exclude from my daily drama, so rather than having to make judgment calls as to what would be important to put on paper, it was easier just to bag the whole project.

This evening, while I was perusing through some old files, I happened upon a mini-essay I penned as a missionary, written on a piece of paper stuck between two pages of my (nearly empty) missionary journal. The essay is undated, though I believe I wrote it about half way through the mission. I have fixed some of the punctuation and translated the occasional Spanish word into English, but otherwise, I resisted the temptation to give it an edit (which it desperately needs). Here it is:

Why I do not have and will not have a mission baptismal goal

When I first arrived in the mission field, I arrived at my first area at the same time as my trainer, and we basically opened the area. There had been 2 missionaries working there immediately before us, but they had not been working like they should, so they were removed, leaving us with basically nothing to start with. Within the first 7 weeks I was there, my comp Elder Zacarias and I had 13 baptisms. Needless to say, that was the highest number of baptisms performed by a companionship in the mission that month, and was the highest the mission had seen in quite some time. We became rather famous in the mission for a short time, and of course reveled in the praises and respect given us by our mission president, as well as fellow missionaries.

Let it be stated that I was just a greenie at the time, who often felt he was just being taken along for the ride, but Elder Zacarias was an experienced elder who had had somewhat similar experiences throughout his mission. Elder Zacarias had set a baptismal goal of 100 baptisms in his mission, and I do believe, if I’m not mistaken, that he reached it. Needless to say, he left the Mission Trelew with one of the highest number of baptisms for a missionary ever achieved in the mission. I’m sure he returned home at the end of his 2-year stay quite content with his work, and felt that his mission had been a complete success. . . . but from my point of view, in many ways, Zacarias’ mission was a complete DISASTER.

What the rest of the mission didn’t see (and what I believe the president chose not to see) was the real, behind-the-scenes story behind the numbers Zacarias was pulling in, a story I fully lived as his companion for two months. The truth was, although Zacarias admittedly had many excellent qualities as a missionary (his ability to animate members and investigators, build social trust, leave spiritual impressions, and work unceasingly were among the best I’ve ever seen in the mission field), he was driven by a burning lust for high numbers and personal recognition, and nothing was more important to him than this. Because of this, Zacarias left behind him a legacy of baptized drunks, and instant inactives … inactives not because of the many unforeseeable motives that might drive people inactive (indeed, we as missionaries cannot always blame ourselves for the choices of our investigators, saying it was wrong to baptize them. But in these cases, the responsibilities of the missionary to ensure preparedness and appropriate baptismal motives were not fulfilled, and that is definitely deserving of blame), but because of the simple fact they were unprepared (many never had any church attendance) or had never gained testimonies (some had never read almost any of the Book of Mormon).

So what’s my point? What this all boils down to, I think, is a dilemma that not only I have had to face during my mission, but one that I think all missionaries have to face at one time or another. . . The eternal struggle between QUALITY and QUANTITY. Theoretically, it goes without saying that everybody wants the maximum quality and maximum quantity out of their baptisms. But the simple, mathematical reality is that less quality inevitably leads to more quantity and vs. versa. Every missionary learns that the line between the two has to be drawn somewhere, and each missionary has to make the decision for himself/herself as to where he/she chooses to do it. And working within a system (such as the mission) that is so numbers-oriented (or appears to be becoming so), it is very easy to take the Zacarias option and make a “run for the glory.” Needless to say, many do. And then we foolishly ask ourselves why we have a 70% inactivity rate in South America.

I will repeat. . . missionaries cannot blame themselves every time a baptism goes inactive. Inactivity is the free agency of every individual. But if we have not done all that we can to prepare our baptisms. . . if we have not ensured that our investigators have gained adequate testimonies of the gospel, then we are at least partially at fault for their failures.

So why don’t I set a number as a baptismal goal? I choose not to because I don’t want to risk becoming another Zacarias. Not even a little bit. Instead, my goal in the mission is to work as hard as I can, to the best of my ability to bring about as many baptisms as I can, be that 10 or 1000. My baptismal success depends upon many things (the personal choices of my investigators, my teaching ability, the openness of the people, their reception to the Spirit, God’s will, my faith, etc.), but in the end, at least I will know that I’ve done my best, and I’ve done it for the right reasons. I see no reason to cloud my judgment by tempting myself with inappropriate motives.

It is fun to read the thoughts of a much younger me. I get to relive some of the frustrations and other emotions that I felt all those years ago. But what I want to know from you all is … did the 20-year old Aaron Brown have a point, or was he just blowing smoke?

I assume my observation as to the inevitable tradeoff between “quality” converts and high numbers of baptisms is a true, and perhaps obvious, one. (But feel free to disagree if you’re so inclined). More interesting to me is the question of setting goals, per se. Does the very act of setting a numerical baptismal goal increase the chances of one’s cutting corners in preparing investigators, obsessing inappropriately about numbers, overfocusing on outward, meaningless benchmarks of success and viewing potential converts as mere means to a selfish end? Wouldn’t missionaries be better off making sure their hearts are in the right place, their motives are pure, and that they are working hard, leaving the Lord to take care of the numbers? Or was I wrong to identify the act of goal-setting, per se, as the source of Elder Zacarias’ problems? Are there virtues to the goal-setting process that more than offset any of the negatives I mentioned? Or is goal-setting itself not the source of the problem at all, contrary to my essay, and I was engaging in a serious misdiagnosis? A penny for your thoughts …

Aaron B


Bloggernacle Potluck V  

by Dave
I'm continuing a feature started on my other blog, highlighting interesting posts around the Bloggernacle since the last Potluck, ones that deserve another go-round and additional comment from the BCC community. This should be especially useful for group bloggers who frequent BCC and T&S but don't get out much (to other Bloggernacle sites). For previous installments, go here.

Justin at Mormon Wasp talked about Wallace Stegner and gave a link to an interview he did with Sunstone in 1980. Stegner wrote about Salt Lake City as a unique Western city rather than as a Mormon city, and was the first person to make me actually like the place a little bit. He deserves more attention.

Bret at Nine Moons posted The Manipulation Pattern: A Mormon's Favorite Tool (ouch!). He wonders out loud about the difference between the manipulation pattern and the commitment pattern, and how we can "avoid falling into the trap of using manipulation." He has a nice discussion, but I really hope the practice is not as easy to fall into as Bret makes it sound. Perhaps we should be teaching missionaries the Golden Rule instead of the commitment pattern?

Ryan at Intellecxhibitionist contrasts living ordinances with apostate sacraments, also giving a link to a nice talk on The Great Apostasy ("TGA") delivered recently by Noel Reynolds at BYU Idaho (the new training ground for LDS apostles) from which he borrowed the idea. You don't hear much about TGA these days, which is a good thing because most of what we used to hear about it was wrong. That seems to be what Reynolds is getting at, although he doesn't come right out and say it. He lists three myths about TGA, which amount to three ways Mormons have misunderstood it in the past.

Finally, if you have a soft spot in your heart for caffeine but feel a little guilty about it, go read this and you'll feel better. Thanks to Nate the good humor man for a new vision of hot drinks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Go Sox 

by Kristine
This has absolutely no Mormon content. It's just that I know lots of you are in NYC, and I am in Boston, and I do not want to miss this RARE opportunity to say:

Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!!

And I'm starting a write-in campaign for some candidates I can really get excited about


(And yes, tomorrow you can all laugh at me)

Lock Your Hearts 

by NA
The title for this post comes from an old mission field chestnut; a talk given by Spencer W. Kimball, warning missionaries against falling in love in the mission field. You can read the text of it here -- apparently its validity is in dispute. I had little trouble keeping my heart locked during my mission in France; no one really ever tried to bust in, frankly. I can't say that my companions were so lucky however, with sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic results (mostly hilarious).

A recent comment at the unmentionable blog relating a Dear John incident has inspired me to blog about my own Dear John experiences, and to solicit yours, Dear Reader. First, a couple of gems from the Book of Steve: I'd dated Tracy a few times before going into the MTC, she was a fine, strapping lass from Calgary. As things are wont to do, my image of Tracy became more lustrous the longer I was in the MTC, and by the time I was in France, Tracy was quite the catch. I wrote to lovely Tracy, asking for a small picture of her, perhaps to adorn my dumpy apartment in Sartrouville. Tracy was all too happy to comply, and in a few weeks I had my picture -- her engagement photo. Thanks, Tracy *rrrrrip*.

Another from the many, many disappointments: I'd dated Aisha during freshman year in Deseret Towers, and I thought we had a bright and make-out rich future ahead of us. We wrote each other frequently, sharing thoughts, feelings, and experiences. *sigh*. About 8 months into the mission, the letters stopped -- no explanation, no notes. I was crushed. Was she all right? Had the lamanites taken over her city, Pahoran-style? A few months later, the letters started again. However, amongst the thoughts and feelings being shared were thoughts and feelings about some other guy. Trevor? Mark? Who cares. Thanks for sharing, Aisha *burns letters furiously*.

These are tame experiences, compared to some of the absolute heart-crushers I've witnessed with my companions. I've seen elders get completely immobilized for days, sobbing uncontrollably. Remember this, O ye who are about to embark on missions -- lock your hearts, dear friends. Lock your hearts.

Monday, October 18, 2004

What's going on and how do we deal with it?  

by Christina
I am a skeptic, I have a difficult time with faith, and there aren't many things I believe wholeheartedly that I can't judge based on my own experience, whether spiritual or temporal. There are some truths I hold to, nonetheless, and one of them is the mutability of human nature. I believe we have the ability, perhaps particularly so in this mortal life, to change who we are fundamentally, for better and for worse - and often both at the same time. I also believe that we can help each other change, in fact, those two things together sum up a good portion of what we are here on earth to do, and what we are most fulfilled by doing, as I see it: 1) work to grow ourselves and, 2) help each other grow.

Here is my problem:
What happens when we are dealing with people who are so mired in their circumstances that our experiences together don't seem to help? I'll give a few examples of what I am thinking about. I've worked with children and youth in high risk situations on and off for several years. One thing that is very difficult to break through is the depression in children and teenagers who know that their chances of making much of themselves in life are slim to none. Granted, some people can come through even exceptionally bad circumstances and make a life that is happy and fulfilling. Many, however, do not. Teenagers in low socioeconomic areas, particularly in high-gang activity areas, know this. I remember working with one kid who had been doing pretty well through his junior high school years. But in his second year of high school he just lost it. He stopped playing sports, his grades plummeted, he pretty much dropped out of life. After many attempts to get through to him, I once had an open, honest talk with him in which he told me that he just didn't see the point in making much effort any more, because everyone else in his life had dropped out too. His brothers and cousins and friends were in gangs, some of them had been killed, many were in jail or clearly headed in that direction. He couldn't see, despite some serious adult intervention on his behalf, how he could be different. This wasn't laziness, it was an acknowledgement of reality.

Another example from yesterday, which is what got me thinking about this issue again: my husband and I know a family that has difficulties with their younger son, who has been in and out of high school for several years, and now he is nearly 21 and still has not finished. In the last 2 years, in particular, he has become severely depressed and nonresponsive to life. He wanders the streets and doesn't go to the few classes he needs to get his GED. We have known this family a few years, we have seen the son go in and out of the hospital, talked with him, given him blessings, given his mother blessings. His mother is at a point where she doesn't feel like she can take it any more - she can't get her son to take care of his basic human needs, and she is tired of doing these things for him, but she doesn't want to put him out on the street.

What do we do? My question is not, whom should we help? Nor is it, how can we judge who needs our time and energy? We are fallible, we can't judge where someone is in life, and we probably all have experiences in which we know people who didn't appear to be getting their lives in order who later on will change and testify to the love and support that sustained them in their difficult times. We all need help, we all deserve it, because life is struggle. My question is, what do we do for those who seem to have given up, especially young people? How do we get them engaged in life? Is it just a problem of brain chemistry - are some people depressed and therefore the best help is medicine? (full disclosure: I have siblings and other relatives with chronic depression, and in no way do I mean to diminish the force of it, and I acknowledge that brain chemistry matters a great deal in who we are and become).
What do we do when it seems we can't help each other grow/change/deal with problems?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Mormon Celebrity-Watch 

by Aaron B
Now that you’re all sick to death of watching Ken Jennings rake in millions while you slave away at your day job, it’s time to direct your attention to the next up-and-coming Mormon celebrity: Ryan Benson. Ryan is a contestant on the new NBC reality show “The Biggest Loser,” which is billed as a “compelling new weight-loss drama in which two celebrity fitness trainers join with top health experts to help 12 overweight contestants transform their bodies, health and ultimately their lives.” Ryan is a former member of my ward, and is also a good friend of mine.

Now, let me assure you that I typically LOATHE reality shows. I pride myself on never having seen a single episode of “Survivor.” (I have seen a little bit of “The Bachelor,” but only because my wife stole the remote while I was watching C-Span). But given Ryan’s presence on the show, I feel compelled to watch, and so should all of you!

Incidently, Ryan describes himself as a “Mormon on the Edge” here. Since we few and proud Bloggernaclites are oh-so-hip and edgy ourselves, we should feel even more inclined to tune in than we otherwise would. Maybe Ryan will even wax on about how “Cool Mormons watch R-rated movies” and make Bob Caswell proud!

Finally, you should know that Ryan has visited the Bloggernacle on occasion, though he’s only commented once. (Despite my best efforts, I was never able to get him to develop a full-blown addiction).

The series starts this Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. I imagine that Ryan will be returning home shortly (he has been hidden away at a Beverly Hills hotel for weeks and weeks now). You can trust that I will do my best to coax out of him how the series ends, and if I’m successful, I’ll be sure to post some spoilers. :)

Aaron B


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Final Showdown 

by NA
One last time, folks...


Shout-out for a great topic 

by NA
Dave, BCC'er and mastermind of Dave's Mormon Inquiry, has a tremendous post up about fiscal transparency in the Church. Some very strong arguments all over this issue, and raises some fun questions about Church fiscal policy and our relative wealth. I wonder if the Church engages in derivatives, swaps and hedges in complicated structures, Enron-style, or whether it is all about straight-up asset valuation in the Warren Buffett tradition. Clearly, the consecrated funds view is a solid argument for conservative transactions -- but at the same time, the parable of the talents rewarded the highest gains! If Warren Buffett used his middle initial more prominently (it's "E", for Edward) he could almost be a G.A. -- his annual letters could be slapped into the Ensign, they're that fun to read.

P.S. hot presidential debate tonight, supposibly focusing on the economy. Stay tuned for a poll!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Degrees of Difficulty 

by Kristine
Astute readers (and even, perhaps, some who are not particularly astute) will have noticed that I frequently (er, pretty much always) disagree with John Fowles. Online, at least, we seem to inhabit the opposite poles of possible intellectual orientation to Mormonism. In real life, of course, we'd probably be chatting about obscure German verbs and the best restaurants in Ann Arbor and our kids and be great friends in no time. But online we seem to be cast as arch enemies, which is very intellectually productive for me, at least (John probably only gets high blood pressure out of our discussions).

Anyway, I mention this because lately (when I'm not busy thinking of new ways to provoke John), I've been thinking about a little exchange we had a few posts ago, about the relative degrees of difficulty of living in a black and white world versus living in a grayish one. I said that I was envious of people with John's apparent confidence; he said he thought it would be easier to live in a world of grey. (Maybe it would be, with the British spelling :)) I'm curious as to why we each might think the other's way of being in the world easier. Perhaps it's a simple case of "the grass is always greener..."

But perhaps not. It seems to me that many disagreements between conservatives and liberals (for want of better terms) come down to this suspicion of each other: I think John is choosing the easy way by abdicating a great deal of his own critical faculty and agency in favor of a stance of more or less unquestioning obedience; he thinks I'm trying to find an easier way than just keeping the commandments, with my constant questions. It is certainly true that some "liberality" is an excuse or a rationalization for less-than-valiant behavior. But there must be deeper issues at stake here. If I behave exactly as John does (and I think I probably do, in very many ways), is my way of thinking about things still wrong? Is it possible for conservatives to grant that there might be a principled, moral reason for taking a liberal stance? And, conversely, is it possible for liberals to believe that a conservative stance can be similarly principled, and not a mere abdication of one's reason and thoughtful effort? Can we see and acknowledge the difficulty of both stances?

The vitriol in debates between conservatively oriented and liberally oriented Mormons reminds me sometimes of the nastiness between mothers who leave paid employment to care for their children and mothers who outsource some childcare while they pursue another occupation (sheesh--no wonder people resort to inaccurate and loaded terms like "working mother" and "stay-at-home-mother"). Both ways are sooooo hard, and somehow we get invested in thinking our way is the hardest, and therefore we're heroes and people who take the opposite course are wimps. What a strange kind of competition! Is choosing what seems the hardest way really the most virtuous course?

Friday, October 08, 2004

Debate Two: Electric Boogaloo 

by NA


Because this is the ONLY issue you all really care about … 

by Aaron B
Put aside for a moment the alleged LDS prohibition on viewing R-rated movies (I know that’s asking a lot from this group). Imagine a world in which no reference to movie “ratings” has ever been voiced by any of the Brethren, but a general admonition to follow the “Admonition of Paul” is in force. What I want to know is … “What kind of movies should good LDS members watch, and what kind shouldn’t they watch?” Most critical commentary on the “No R-rated movies standard” tends to condemn the MPAA’s rating system as “arbitrary,” “flawed,” and a poor guide to determining what is worth viewing and what isn’t. But if there were a perfect standard, or at least a hypothetical rating system that incorporated all the sophisticated concerns and nuanced criteria you think should count toward determining whether a film is acceptable, what would that standard look like? This may seem like a simple question, but I don’t think it is. Most LDS discussions of R-rated movie-watching confront it in passing, but not directly. Some specific questions:

(1) Surely there are fantastic, moving, amazing films very much worth watching, notwithstanding the fact they contain some offensive material. Surely there are other films that have lots of redeeming qualities but that are not worth watching, as their offensive content definitively outweighs the good they contain. Are there rules of thumb for determining how to distinguish between these two types of films? Where do we draw the line? Is there some sort of objective standard we can devise, or does it “just depend” on each person and his/her particular sensitivities? Whatever the answer, I don’t think the mere act of pointing out that Violent Film X or Sexual Film Y “contains some inspirational moments so we should see them anyway” is a sufficient answer.

(2) Where does everyone come down on the classic “sex vs. violence” question? One line of argument holds that gratuitous violence in film is worse than gratuitous sex. After all, isn’t murder worse than a little fornication? Would you rather that Little Johnny imitate the axe murderer or the horny teenager on screen? On the other hand, another line of argument has it that gratuitous sex is worse than gratuitous violence. Little Johnny is quite likely to experience a genuine sexual response to Kim Basinger fooling around with Mickey Rourke (and we don’t want that). He is less likely to genuinely get the urge to go on a killing spree just because he saw Charles Bronson do it. Is there a unique LDS perspective on this question?

(3) Assuming that “violence” and “foul language” are generally to be avoided, what exactly are we avoiding and when? Suppose I’m deciding between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest splatterfest, or a serious film about gang violence like “Boyz in the Hood.” Is the murder and mayhem of “Boyz in the Hood” more important to avoid, as it is more realistic and therefore more intense, or is Arnold’s film to be more fervently avoided, as its violence is “gratuitous,” rather than a realistic portrayal? Are the frequent cuss words in “Boyz in the Hood” more offensive than those in Arnold’s film because they portray gang life “as it really is”, or are they less offensive for that reason?

(4) Many decry the “desensitization” that accompanies frequent exposure to violence or bad language in cinema. I agree that desensitization is a real phenomenon and that I, personally, have been thoroughly desensitized. (I know this because I was sickened by certain scenes in “Robocop” when I first saw it, and now they seem like no big deal). Is my desensitization only a problem to the extent that I imitate the foul language I hear in my speech, or act out violently in imitation of what I see? Or is there something about the very act of desensitization, per se, that is a problem, regardless of any observable consequences?

(5) The only way to really know the content of a film, and thus know whether it meets your content standard or not, is to view the film. But if you have to view a film to truly know whether or not you should view a film, you’re really not in a position to ever avoid the films you should avoid, are you? So isn’t some sort of ratings system, MPAA or otherwise, ultimately necessary, regardless of its flaws?

(6) Can we all at least agree that the most offensive film of all time is “Turner & Hooch”? I think I’d rather sit through “Faces of Death” and a truckload of gay porn than have to watch that drooling dog again. Disgusting.

Aaron B


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